Roskilde vs Tinderbox Rd. 1

author PP date 29/11/14

It's entirely possible we were just fooling ourselves into thinking more competition could possibly translate into an awesome festival summer with killer lineups among the major Danish festivals for once. After all, when is the last time you looked at a festival lineup over here and found it at all acceptable compared to their European counterparts?

Unrealistic growth and audience numbers

With the advent and meteoric rise of Copenhell, things are looking bright for the heavy music scene just as they are for the indie/electro scene with NorthSide, but in between these two musical extremes is a gigantic hole that has existed more or less ever since Rikke Øxner directed Roskilde Festival into irrelevancy lineup-wise with her total incompetence about what were a) current and b) important bookings on a yearly basis.

Yes, people came every year and sold out the festival multiple years in a row now, but that is as much a result of having zero proper rain years since the floods of 2004 and 2007 as it is for having had no real alternatives for almost half a decade. And let us not forget that even though people bought tickets they did so grudgingly, referring to a Sunny Beach type of festival experience of mostly upper-middle class high school students drinking themselves silly on the camping area rather than the hippie rooted, multicultural and vibrant community of music meets activism that the festival was in its heyday, let alone the constant and never-ending criticism about the overall lineup come April each year when the banner was revealed.

Where is rock music on Danish festivals?

The problem facing serious music fans in Denmark for almost a decade now has been the disgraceful neglect of the rock music scene and the various subgenres that the umbrella term covers by the festivals at large. Wanted to go see some quality punk/hardcore? Maybe some alternative rock Billboard Modern Rock style? Perhaps you would've loved to check some of the metalcore/post-hardcore/emo/scene genres live now that they were selling out arenas in places like Germany and the UK? Basically anything that wasn't distinctly metal, indie, experimental, innovative, hipster, electronic, pop or similar terms simply never appeared on festival lineups here no matter where you went (though Copenhell have begun the process of including variety lately), so your choices were limited to traveling to a foreign festival or paying up two grand to go see the one or two names in your genres that made it to a lineup poster by chance.

Enter Tinderbox with FKP Scorpio backing

But 2015 is supposed to be the year where all that changes. Not only did Rikke Øxner depart in 2014, but a much more competent booker in Anders Wahrén took her place with the grapevine focusing on his substantial part in the original project that resulted into Copenhell as well as his rumoured broad, but exquisitely detailed personal taste in music ranging from the heavy to the blip-blop electronics equally much. This event coincided with capital-heavy German booking giant FKP Scorpio announcing their intention to enter the Danish market with a brand new festival called Tinderbox, which seemed extremely promising despite limited information upon its reveal to the public. Known for their stacked lineups at Hurricane, Southside, Greenfield, and Bråvalla festivals, all of which prominently feature rock music on a pedestal whether it's innovative or commercial, it appeared likely that Denmark might've just hit a home run in its search for the missing link in our current festival profiles. After all, with all those festivals being scheduled on same/following weekends, the bookers would have an enormous advantage of being able to shuffle the same artists through all of their key festivals on different days, especially given the geographical advantage that simply makes sense. Shipping bands to central Sweden for Bråvalla doesn't make much sense from Southside or Greenfield Festival, but with Hurricane, and now Tinderbox filling the gap in between, all of a sudden you can see a tour routing that just makes sense for most bands big or small.

Two maps showing how much geographical sense Tinderbox makes

So keeping all of that in mind it was difficult to not get excited about the prospects of Denmark getting a real rock festival capable of contesting on even footing against other European festivals. Especially when the local media in Odense first reported Tinderbox to be a rock festival alongside the mammoth 23 million kroner support from Odense municipality on top of the existing financial muscle behind FKP Scorpio. To put things into perspective, Roskilde's yearly band budget hovers around the 46-50 million kroner mark, and that's without any kind of sponsorship or municipal support whatsoever. So a serious contender had been born, and off the Danish media went hyping the festival and the resulting open war between the major festivals (Roskilde, Smukfest, Nibe, Jelling) and Tinderbox, which claimed Beatbox Booking and Skandinavian Booking as casualties where ownership structures had to be radically changed to give their double-roles as agents and festival organizers at least some form of legitimacy. Following a very public exchange of letters and accusations back and forth between the two groups, the scene appears set for an epic battle of ages that's likely to stretch far beyond just the 2015 editions of the respective festivals.

Needless to say, from an audience perspective this kind of animosity is not only amusing to keep track of, but also intriguing because it creates the very real scenario where festivals are aggressively trying to out-do each other in terms of lineup in order to lure the people to buy tickets to one but not the other. With reported capacity of 50.000 at Tinderbox and 75.000 at Roskilde and tickets priced at approximately 1500 and 2000 DKK respectively, it's fairly obvious that most young people won't be able to pick both if they are also to attend a genre-festival like NorthSide and/or Copenhell on the side. An ideal scenario, if you ask me, because it forces the festivals to give real reasons for shelling that much money for a ticket other than "our camping area is awesome and it's likely to be sunny and beer-driven this year too".

Round 1, fight

The weeks leading up to the first announcement by Tinderbox were not only concentrated on the 'open war' between the major festivals but also on sheer hype about the possible announcement. With rumours ranging from Muse, Foo Fighters and AC/DC to all three together plus any number of NOFX, Lagwagon, Millencolin and Blink 182, the word-of-mouth spread quickly given the almost daily coverage on national media and thus we were all eagerly in waiting mode with watery mouths awaiting just how good this new, commercially backed and profit-oriented festival's first announcement was going to be?

Lamb of God - insanity at Copenhell

Roskilde Festival revealed their hand first in the midst of the 'war', opening with a strong quartet featuring Lamb Of God, Tombs, Mew and Dolomite Minor in the weeks following the media debacle. Well, this is a fucking good start to this battle, we thought.

And then Tinderbox deflated the hype balloon at once:

Are you fucking kidding me? ? Calvin Harris? D-A-D? Robbie Williams? The fucking Cardigans? What is this, Tivoli fredags'rock'? Sure, Robbie is a great pop name, and Calvin Harris is one of the most played artists on Spotify this year, and is the new darling of the Danish music media fashion outlets like Soundvenue and Gaffa, but if this is the innovative musical profile that's supposed to be a 'Roskilde killer' as suggested in the hashtag, then I'm afraid Tinderbox have completely misunderstood the opportunity for a straight up market share grab they could've gone for had they gone for a first announcement with bands more akin to the ones you see at Rock Am Ring, Rock Werchter or Download Festival instead. Right now, they are essentially in competition not against Roskilde but against the audience of Smukfest, who were never really music fans to start out with rather than casual consumers of music on the same level as they consume movies, tabloids, fashion magazines and overpriced Tuborg pints at Store Vega. Predictably, the public outcry from actual music fans has been immense given the anticipation and huge expectations we had for the first release for this festival, and that negative mood is going to be very difficult to fix going forward.

Especially because of how Roskilde Festival responded to this announcement straight after during the same week. The original release was going to include ten new names, but with the Tinderbox announcement missing the goal by a couple of miles, the only correct response was to reveal ten more names to deal if not a blowout then at least a very formidable statement to who's the fucking boss when it comes to the new era of Danish festivals (spoiler: thumbs up mr. Wahrén):

Muse, St. Vincent, The Tallest Man On Earth, The War On Drugs, Deafheaven, Goat, OFF!, Pallbearer, Myrkur, Honningbarna, and a bunch of unrelated urban/experimental stuff that I won't bore you with here. Bear in mind this is on top of Lamb Of God, Tombs and Mew already.

So although the initial announcement may have felt equally disappointing having hoped for a bombastic headliner (though you could argue Muse still have the capacity to deliver a spectacular live show), with a few days to reflect on the announcement it is pretty fucking clear who's coming on top. Wahrén seems to be exactly on the right track when it comes to rock/metal names, but also in the other genres. The festival is finally booking bands that are yes, experimental, but ALSO great (see: Deafheaven or Goat) as opposed to the Pitchfork hyped (but awful) bands like Savages, Fidlar and other useless bands that have in no way deserved the attention in the same way as, say, Lamb Of God or Tombs do.

Historic opportunity missed

So while it's almost tempting to use the Danish word 'fryd' at this stage, it is all the more saddening to see the historic, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Tinderbox to profile themselves as a different kind of festival in Denmark squandered by going for the lowest common denominator pop names that will sell tickets not to music enthusiasts (let alone people outside of Denmark, whose festival tastes are far more refined based on attendance alone) but for the family segment of 30 somethings with spending power who stopped listening to music other than the radio when they turned 18, if they had ever explored outside of the mainstream in the first place.

Sure, it is still very much possible that Tinderbox will come out of the gate roaring with a jaw-dropping lineup of rock/metal/alternative names big, medium and small for those of us selling out similar shows at Vega, Pumpehuset, and Amager Bio from time to time, but at this point it won't really matter. The goodwill is no longer there; as the classic sales and marketing principle underlines, a lost customer is a hell of a lot more difficult to win back than someone who isn't familiar with your offering just yet.

Damage Control

The festival did attempt damage control afterwards in numerous responses in the social media about them being misrepresented as a rock festival, but then the question begs to be asked: if there are this many people all across the social media, the diverse news outlets, the serious music media (such as ours, Devilution or GFrock.dk), and elsewhere voicing their disappointment for Tinderbox not being a primarily rock festival as pre-announcement hype suggested, why didn't the festival correct it in advance, and more importantly, why isn't there someone filling the obvious demand by organizing a large-scale festival in exactly those genres that would also attract an international audience. It's no secret that international attendance at all Danish festivals has been in a free fall in the last five or six years. The reason is simple: lineup, lineup, lineup. Thinking back at all the times you've traveled outside of Denmark for a music festival, was the lineup not the primary draw for spending extra cash on airfare et cetera?

Verdict

It's no secret that Roskilde Festival came far ahead in Round 1 in terms of music from a critic's perspective. Tinderbox is only ahead if you're looking for tens of thousands of people singing along to two hit singles or for an ecstascy-infused dance party in front of Calvin Harris late on Saturday night. Nonetheless, it has been a wildly entertaining first round with rumours, insults, tension and hype flying around the different parties like never before in the Danish scene.

We'll follow-up with our thoughts on Round 2.

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